Treasures in jars of clay 2 Corinthians 4

Outreach is hard work. Evangelism is difficult and sometimes costly and painful.

2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
Evangelism is spiritual warfare. Preaching the good news of Jesus is not just human beings engaging other human beings in intellectual debate. Evangelism is a spiritual battle.
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.
Paul has spoken about the veil which covers the eyes of the Jews when their reading of the Law of Moses in the Old Testament prevents them from seeing the glory of God in the face of Christ.
2 Cor 3 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

But there is another different veil over everybody’s eyes, Jews and Gentiles, which stops them from responding to the gospel. And that comes from the devil.
4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
It is the devil who blinds the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot recognize that Jesus is the image of God, the Messiah and Lord of all.
And because evangelism is spiritual warfare, Paul explains his own approach. Starting with what he does not do.
. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God.
NOT secret and shameful ways
NOT deception
NOT distorting the word of God

Paul avoids these short cuts in evangelism which are ultimately worthless because evangelism is a spiritual battle and in that only the truth of God’s word has any power.
Then he explains what he DOES do/
V2b On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.
It’s all about the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.
The focus has to be on Jesus Christ – Jesus as Lord
We are only God’s humble servants. More than that – only the servants of those who we are seeking to reach for Christ.
Evangelism is ultimately God’s work.
6 For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
It is God who lets us recognize who Jesus actually is. It is God the Holy Spirit who helps us to see the glory of God in the face of Christ. Evangelism is spiritual warfare.
But says Paul, we do not lose heart, however discouraging the battle sometimes seems, because we see the world as it really is. We do not lose heart. But that doesn’t mean it will always be easy.

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
Jars of clay were cheap. They were fragile. They were disposable. The equivalent of the single use plastic bag. Use them and throw them away. If they had some precious liquid or powder they would put it in a metal container which wouldn’t break if you knocked it over or dropped it. But, says Paul, in God’s purposes the wonderful treasure of the gospel is carried around in cheap disposable fragile jars of clay.
to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
This is to make sure that the glory all goes to God and not to us. To reveal the power is God’s and not ours.
Now for another really cheerful bit!
8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
That was Paul’s life. Hard pressed. Perplexed. Persecuted. Struck down. Knocked down but never knocked out. That was Paul’s experience but he is explaining here that this will be the destiny of every Christian who seeks to proclaim the gospel in a world which is opposed to God. Maybe not as bad as Paul. But we can all expect to experience elements of suffering and persecution for the sake of the gospel. Jesus said so.
Matthew 5 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
13 ‘You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 ‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Jesus warned his disciples that they would face opposition and persecution.
John 15 18 ‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.
Those who proclaim the gospel will face opposition and persecution.
Jesus said so. And Paul said so.
10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

Our lives are filled with the dying of Christ. Not just the death of Christ but the actual dying of Christ. We are continually sharing in his death, so that we can continually be sharing in his resurrection. His life is revealed in us, as we share in his dying.

For some believers, this actually means martyrdom. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” Tertullian said. For every Christian, sharing the dying of Christ may mean opposition and suffering and persecution.

11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.

Being given over to death. Always, continually, all the time. Not a pleasant prospect. But that is what it means to carry in our bodies the dying of Christ. To carry the treasure of the gospel in jars of clay, ready to be smashed apart whenever the precious contents need to be released.

12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

The suffering of Christians, even the death of Christians, is God’s way of bringing life to those around us who are dying without Christ. It is the heart of our witness to the world. It is the suffering of Christians which is God’s ultimate weapon in the spiritual warfare of evangelism, just as it was the death of Christ Himself on the cross which won the ultimate victory over the devil and all the powers of evil. The example of how Christians suffer for Christ is our witness to the world which reveals to them the glory of God in Christ.
We thought about this earlier in Chapter 2.
14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life.
The aroma of Christ is the pleasing fragrance of sacrifices, laid on the altar for Christ. This is why we have the treasure in jars of clay. This is why we are always carrying around in our bodies the dying of Christ.
Paul had made the same point in 1 Corinthians 1
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God …. 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. …
27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.
2 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

This is how the gospel works. This is what breaks through the veil the devil puts over the eyes of those who do not believe. The suffering of Christ on the cross, revealed in jars of clay in the lives of Christians who are not ashamed to deny themselves and take up the cross daily and follow Jesus.

13 It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’ Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

The challenge for us is to keep on speaking out about Jesus, even though it is a spiritual battle and even though it can sometimes be dangerous and costly and painful. We share Christ’s resurrection life already. And we are confident that God will raise us to life in the final resurrection of the dead and that we will share eternity in glory with Christ face to face. So we keep on speaking!

When we understand how the gospel works, Paul says, we don’t lose heart. In the spiritual warfare of evangelism, we are the jars of clay carrying the precious treasure of the gospel. Always carrying in our bodies the dying of Christ so that the life of Christ can be revealed in us. We believe. Therefore we speak!

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